Dentists will have to wait a little longer for the government’s verdict on its own NHS reforms.
The Department of Health has revealed its evaluation of the first year of the new dental contracts will not be published until next month [June] at the earliest.
Health Minister Rosie Winterton, in a Parliamentary written answer, said: ‘The Department plans to publish a report on the first 12 months of the reforms once we have full year data. The first year data is likely to be available in June.’
Ms Winterton indicated that the Department of Health would not be publishing the findings of its Implementation Review Group, set up to scrutinise the government’s reforms and make sure they delivered their intended benefits.
Instead, she said, the government’s report would ‘take into account the main issues discussed by the Implementation Review Group so far’.
An indication of the Department’s thinking was provided last month by Health Minister Lord Hunt, who defended the new contract and charges in Parliament.
The minister told peers: ‘I am encouraged that in many parts of the country it has worked well and particularly that primary care trusts now have the ability to deal with the access problems.’
He admitted the reforms would ‘take time to bed down’, but said the number of patients receiving NHS dental treatment was ‘stable’.
The government’s assessment is likely to be more favourable than that of a range of professional associations, who last month offered a bleak outlook for the future of NHS dentistry.
Speaking at a Westminster summit organised by independent health thinktank 2020health, Derek Watson, chief executive of the Dental Practitioners Association, predicted the NHS would increasingly serve patients who wanted a ‘cheap and cheerful’ service.
He said: ‘It’s possible to argue patients seeking NHS dentistry can still find dentists. But they will have to try much harder and travel much further and the range of treatments will be far fewer. People who want the best will be catered for by the private sector.’
Tony Reed of the British Dental Trade Association said there was ‘an access problem’ marked by a ‘postcode lottery’ of provision.
David Smith of the Dental Laboratories Association said there had been a ‘huge decline’ in complex work since the new contract simplified 600 types of treatment into three bands.
Bridge work, for example, was down 87%, with patients more likely to be offered ‘very simple plastic dentures’.
Partly as a result of this, according to Tony Griffin of the Dental Technicians Association, 500 of the country’s 9,000 technicians had lost their jobs.
By Andy Tate, parliamentary correspondent